As we analyzed every single published review of the larger, louder Bluetooth speakers, we discovered two that were consistently at the top of critics' lists in terms of sound quality: the Marshall Kilburn and the UE Megaboom.

Each of these portable speakers has advantages over the other — here we'll discuss the contrasts and how we'd decide between the two. Note that these are larger and more expensive than many of the Bluetooth speakers we're passionate about; we recommend other Bluetooth speakers if you're looking for something smaller and/or cheaper, and willing to accept a bit less oomph.

Update History of This Article

This article was originally published on September 20, 2017.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Marshall Kilburn vs. UE Megaboom

 Marshall KilburnUE Megaboom
Weight (oz.)105.831
Notes• Frequency range: 62-20,000HZ
• One 4" woofer and two 0.75" dome tweeters
• Class D amplifiers: one 15W for woofer and two 5W for tweeters
• Analogue knobs for volume, bass, and treble
• Frequency Range: 65-20,000HZ
• Two 2” drivers and two 2” x 4” Passive Radiators
• Five-band equalizer via app
• Hook and tripod mount
Connectivity• Bluetooth 4.0 with AptX
• 3.5 mm input with included coiled cable
• "Smart" Bluetooth (speaker can be turned on and off via the app)
• NFC pairing
• 3.5 mm input
Battery life (advertised)2020
SpeakerphoneNoYes
Voice ControlYes, with Siri, Alexa, and Google Now integration
Pair multiple units for stereoYes (2)
Waterproof?NoYes (IPX7)
Warranty1 year2 years
Height (in.)9.538.9
Width (in.)5.53.3
Length (in.)5.53.3
Also Available AteBay
Marshall
BestBuy
newegg
B&H Photo Video
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newegg
BestBuy
Amazon Pricing

Critical Meta-Review of the Marshall Kilburn and UE Megaboom

Both of these speakers are praised by audio critics for being able to produce good quality sound for their size. They're also plenty loud enough to fill a mid-sized room or animate a small outdoor gathering.

To look at the differences in features and how they sound, we began with a careful look over the testing results on these two speakers from the important international consumer organizations: Which? (UK)Que Choisir (France) and Consumer Reports (USA), and then delved into the range of opinions from the most demanding audiophiles, tech sites, and bloggers (as noted below). We also checked in with the Amazon reviews (enthusiastic for the Megaboom, and even more so for the Kilburn).

Marshall Kilburn

Portability

The most obvious difference between the two is in size. The UE Megaboom is an 8.9-inch-long cylinder weighing just under two pounds, whereas the Marshall Kilburn is a tad bit longer and much bulkier box that looks like a guitar amp in miniature (it's designed to mimic the famous Marshall guitar amps). The Kilburn also weighs over three times as much.

UE Megaboom

How They Sound

Unsurprisingly, the larger and heavier Marshall Kilburn is the better-sounding of these two speakers — size vs. great sound is the key challenge for engineers who design speakers.

The audio critics who reviewed the Kilburn generally felt that it delivers a fantastic balance and kicks out "real bass and high volumes without distortion". It is the one portable speaker that some felt was nearly able to compete with good bookshelf speakers, offering a richness in the low-mids that gives an impression of more resonant bass and a fullness in voices and instruments on the deeper end. It sounds "warmer" than the UE Megaboom, especially in this mid range. It doesn't distort at top volumes, and it plays very loud for a speaker of its size.

The UE Megaboom likewise impressed for its ability to go very loud and do so without distorting. The critics who reviewed this speaker were generally slightly less demanding as they were comparing it to other speakers of the same size (that is, smaller than the Kilburn), but there was nearly universal agreement that it was the best-sounding speaker at this smaller size, and especially among the waterproof, beachy speakers.

The UE Megaboom is designed to disperse sound at 360 degrees and generally succeeds, meaning that you can place it in the center of the action and it'll sound about the same in any direction. For a small speaker, it's able to provide a reasonable expansiveness and soundstage. While it doesn't deliver the finesse and detail of the Marshall Kilburn, it still offers excellent precision and smoothness.

Marshall Kilburn's controls

The Kilburn has analog treble and bass knobs (they're convenient and a pleasurable throwback) while the UE Megaboom offers a five-band equalizer in its dedicated app.

Durability and Waterproofing

While the Marshall Kilburn feels like a solidly constructed piece, the UE Megaboom wins in this area hands-down; the IPX7 waterproof rating means that it can withstand being submerged under a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. There is a rubber cap to protect the ports.

If you're looking for a speaker to use around water (a pool, the beach, a humid bathroom) the UE Megaboom is a better choice.

Battery Life

Both speakers advertise 20 hours of battery life at middle volumes and reviewers who tested this generally found that the speakers came close to their manufacturers' claims. The French consumer organization ran the most careful test, playing both speakers at a loud 80 dB until they died. The Kilburn lasted over 16 hours in their test and the UE Megaboom conked out a couple of hours before that.

In any case, both are quite capable of lasting through an all-day party and deep into the night, or through a few days of on-and-off use on the road.

Other Features (Exclusive to the UE Megaboom)

The Marshall Kilburn is a simple beast that does what it does quite well, but the UE Megaboom has some extra tricks as follows — the Kilburn lacks all of these.

  • Simultaneously run multiple UE Megabooms: Via the dedicated app for iPhone or Android, you can make a stereo system out of two UE Megabooms, or you can have multiple speakers play in parallel for multi-room sound or a louder outdoor party.
  • Connecting: The UE Megaboom offers "smart" Bluetooth that allows you to turn the speaker on and off remotely, which can be useful if it's out of reach or in another room, and especially if you've misplaced it. It also has NFC to enable quick pairing on more modern phones that have this feature.
  • D-ring and tripod mount: We've said that hooks are very useful when you're on the road; the D-ring allows you to hang this speaker on a hook or clip it to a pack with a standard carabiner. This hook screws off to reveal a threaded mount for a tripod, or more interestingly, a flexible claw-grip portable tripod.
  • Siri, Alexa, and Google Now integration: This feature — and "smart speakers" in general — are a bit of a gimmick, but if you want to talk to your speaker instead of to your phone, you can do it with the UE Megaboom.
  • Speakerphone: This is also of rare real-world use for most people, but the UE Megaboom has an excellent speakerphone function available for those who prefer to make calls on it rather than directly through their phones.

How the Marshall Kilburn and UE Megaboom Stack Up Against Other Bluetooth Speakers

While these are two of the best sounding speakers on the larger end of the portable Bluetooth market, there are a few others that can compete.

Most notably, the Bose Soundlink Revolve or Bose Soundlink Revolve+ (we compare them here) are worth considering, though they don't deliver as much volume or convincing bass. The Revolves do however knock out beautiful, clear 360-degree sound and are water-resistant. Bose also produces a great, much smaller Soundlink Mini II (we discuss it here).

We have said that the UE Boom 2 is the very best smaller (that is, the size of a tall beer can) Bluetooth speaker. As we've noted, it's very much like the Megaboom, just a bit smaller. The famous UE brand also has some even cheaper options that sound great: the UE Roll 2 and the UE Wonderboom (compared here). And JBL has OK options too: (JBL Charge 3, JBL Flip 4, JBL Xtreme, and JBL Pulse 3).

Finally, Marshall offers one other Bluetooth speaker that is smaller than the Kilburn: the Marshall Stockwell. But it doesn't sound as good as the Kilburn, and most greatly prefer the UE Megaboom's sound, and that speaker in any case has more features. Marshall's other offerings are great but are purely home use as they don't have batteries. The Marshall home Bluetooth speakers (from small to large) are the Acton Bluetooth, the Stanmore Bluetooth, and the Woburn Bluetooth. Marshall also has now launched multi-room versions of the same speakers in an attempt to compete with Sonos.

Wrap-Up

Both speakers sound great, but there is a clear tradeoff to be made here for portability and ruggedness versus better sound.

If you can carry the six-and-a-half-pound Marshall Kilburn around to the places you intend to use your speaker, you'll be happier with its fuller low-mids and more resonant and convincing bass.

At under two pounds, the UE Megaboom is much easier to chuck into a bag and have with you whenever you need to launch a great dance party. It doesn't sound quite as great, but we do think it's the best sounding speaker for its size and ruggedness.